So you’ve bought a sweet vintage tiny home and you’re ready to hit the road and start your big adventure. Or maybe you’re already in your home on wheels, and your eager excitement has begun to give way to slight concern over the crushing summer heat or the biting winter cold.
I’m going to be blunt with ya- old buses and vans are as well insulated as a cereal box. Ie; not very.
Now before you fall in a heap and wonder whatever posessed you to live like a dirty hippie on the road full time, there are a few things you can do to vastly improve the insulation in your tiny home on wheels. Our main concern in Australia was the heat, but the following ideas are also super helpful in cold weather.
Our Bus and home, affectionately known as ‘Molly’ was a hotbox. More than half the interior height is windows, and the rest of the walls and ceiling are two sheets of paper-thin tin, with non-existent crumbling old glass insulation, sparsely clumped here and there in between. Not the best for keeping your cool. Stepping inside in the height of a record hot Australian summer was like stepping into a blast furnace. Before being able to comfortably sleep in it we had to make some serious changes.
The first job was insulation. We bought a compound foam product used in ceiling installation which has one reflective side and one blue side. Although it is only 8mm thick, its insulative properties are far superior to the old glass wool and it’s much easier to work with, with no scratchy fibreglassy nastiness to drive you bananas. It’s also entirely fire retardant. We tested this theory ourselves by putting a piece directly on top of our wood stove and it would not but no matter what we did. We then threw it directly into the flames and still, it wouldn’t burn!
There are a few different brands but the one we purchased was called ‘Ametalin’ from bunnings. It’s expensive, at around AUD$300 but that’s for a huge 20m roll. Believe me, you will use every square inch of that when you realize what a difference it makes!
The next job was sewing some heavy rubber-backed curtains to help combat the afternoon sun. It was a little pricey, but I bought the very best quality material I could find with the most insulative qualities. Buying ready-made curtains would have worked out MUCH more expensive so if you can sew a straight line I would highly recommend sewing your own. That way you get the exact size you need as well.
One trick to keeping out extreme heat and cold is to hang the curtains as close to the windows as possible. After trialing a few ideas, we settled on using 5 small ‘3M’ hooks per curtain (the little clear removable ones). These worked our great and are surprisingly strong! They hooks are invisible behind the curtain and hang very close to the glass. You can take the curtain off completely to take advantage of the view when the weather is nice, and they are super easy to pull off to wash. On the first curtain I sewed 5 buttonholes. It looked okay but was a lot of work on the heavy material. The next one I sewed 5 small tabs of elastic on the back instead, and this worked out fantastic! It hid the hooks all together and gave just a little bit of stretch if the wind happens to catch the curtain. I did the same with the rest of the curtains and am super happy with the results.
The third thing we did to help combat the heat was to tint the windows.
Beware. DIY window tinting is a challenge, even with Ninja skills. If you don’t have a lot to spend (as we didn’t at the time) and opt for cheap Chinese tint online, the challenges multiply by like a bazillion percent. The tint is so thin, it’s like sticky celophane. One puff of breeze and it all sticks together and is impossible to pull apart without tearing. Anchoring it with tape while carefully peeling the inner (clear) film is next to impossible. The window must be pre-dampened, so the tape doesn’t stick very well, and if you happen to make it to the window with clean film and no nicks or fold marks, its very easy to pierce when squeegie-ing it in place.
All that aside, if you have the patience and some sharp Ninja skills then by all means have a crack at it. If you have some spare dough I would highly recommend getting a professional to take care of it. It will be quick, clean and a higher quality product.
Of all the things we did to improve the insulation in our bus, tinting the windows had the biggest impact by far on the inside temperature. The curtains and insulation did help a lot, and combined it made a world of difference.
There are other things you can do to avoid melting or freezing if you don’t have air conditioning, which really make a difference while living tiny, off grid.
If possible, park your vehicle in a position where it can catch any little breeze. Even a slight one can make a huge difference. A good thing to remember is that it is always a little cooler near water.
If you have hatches or whirly-birds, make fly screen covers for the ceiling and let the hot air escape. Install mozzie screens on doors and windows so that you can take advantage of crossflow ventilation without being eaten alive. We bought some magnetic flyscreen curtains from bunnings fpr only $9.90 per set. They fit a standard door and can easily be fitted to a bus or RV doorway using velcro.
Portable fans are great and can be charged via USB, power banks or battery, and are much more energy efficient than conventional 240v fans. We bought two of these ‘Outdoor Connection’ 12v Camping Fans for the bus and love them. Jack removed the feet and mounted them on the ceiling, one in our room and one in Baby’s. They’re flat-ish so they don’t take up much space but are quite large and powerful, and really help on a hot day.
Although extreme temps can be uncomfortable, a combination of the above ideas can make a world of difference. Do you have an older vehicle that you’ve improved the temperature quality of? Any ideas that we’ve missed? We’d love to hear from you below!
Until next time,
Dust 🙂 xx